Fired University of North Dakota Faculty Member Alleges Anti-gay Bias

GRAND FORKS, N.D.

A University of North Dakota choir director who is being fired for allegedly failing to maintain professional boundaries with students says he is being targeted because he’s gay.

Anthony Reeves, an assistant music professor, said he believes his firing is related to his attempt to adopt a 19-year-old student who says he was disowned by his parents for being gay.

Reeves, in his third year at UND, will appeal the move to dismiss him at a hearing. His attorney, Henry Howe, said he expects about 25 choir members and other students of the nontenured teacher to testify in support of him.

“It is obvious to me that for some reason people at UND want rid of me,” Reeves said. “I don’t believe they have been straightforward about their reasons.”

University officials say Reeves violated the faculty harassment policy by making sexually based and demeaning comments to students, according to a letter Reeves received the first day of class this year.

In a personnel evaluation dated Oct. 18, music department officials said Reeves is inconsistent as a conductor and teacher and his recruitment efforts fell below expectations. Reeves denies the allegations.

Reeves received positive feedback from the music department in evaluations in 2003 and 2004, including praise of his recruitment efforts.

Martha Potvin, dean of arts and sciences, notified Reeves by letter on the first day of class about the university’s intention to fire him. Reeves was placed on paid leave pending the outcome. He has since started two independent choirs.

Andrew Howard, a fifth-year UND choir member who sings in Reeves’ new choirs, said the university is making a mistake by firing the director.

“We learned a lot more with him than with any other director we could have,” Howard said.

At least two students and one parent have complained about Reeves. It prompted an investigation by Affirmative Action Officer Sally Page. A university report does not include details about the complaints but alleges that Reeves was drunk during a 10-day choir trip to Europe last May and abandoned some of his responsibilities — statements he denies. Page declined comment.

Reeves and his partner explored the possibility of adopting Letvin because of advantages such as health insurance and parental rights in making life-and-death decisions. Letvin, who said adult adoption is common in the gay community, said he wants Reeves to adopt him because they feel like a family.

A judge denied the adoption petition in October, Letvin said. In court papers, Letvin’s parents said the judge thought Reeves “exercised undue influence over Letvin to get him to consent to adoption.”

Reeves and Philip Letvin are considering an appeal.

Some students told an investigator that Reeves displayed preferential treatment to Letvin, a university report says. Reeves disputes that.

University documents also say Reeves failed to notify the music department of his relationship with Letvin. Reeves said he sent an e-mail to department chairman Towne about the relationship.

UND’s faculty handbook says it discourages romantic relationships between professors and students. It does not include a policy about professors and students living together.

“I think the university has concerns about potential bad publicity,” Howe said. “It looks like they’re making up some excuses to justify saying goodbye.”

The five-member faculty committee hearing Reeves’ appeal will make a recommendation to UND President Charles Kupchella, who will make the final decision.

Associated Press



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